It was a stunning start to the 2016 Donaldson Cross-Country Championship for Toyota, as the season got under way on April 1st, in the Northwest town of Vryburg. The two factory Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Hilux race vehicles finished the event in first and second place overall, with Jason Venter and navigator Vince van Alleman finishing third overall in the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux.
“What a start to our motorsport season,” was Toyota Gazoo Racing SA Team Principal, Glyn Hall’s reaction after the race. “We started the year by coming first and second on the opening round of the rally championship, and now we’ve done the same in the cross-country championship.”
Round 1 of this year’s Donaldson Championship was the RFS Endurance in Vryburg – a race of nearly 700 km in the area that gave birth to the sport nearly five decades ago. For Toyota Gazoo Racing SA, the weekend started with defending champions Leeroy Poulter and Rob Howie winning the qualifying race despite having to open the entire route. Team mates and former champions Anthony Taylor and Dennis Murphy finished the qualifying race in second place, just 1:17 behind Poulter/Howie.
When the flag dropped for the start of the main race, Poulter/Howie set a blistering pace, and even though they still had to pick their way through the section of the route that was not used during the qualifying race, they never relinquished their lead.
“In the end the Toyota Hilux ran absolutely faultlessly, and we just had a perfect race,” said Poulter from the Designated Service Park (DSP) on the outskirts of Vryburg.
For Taylor/Murphy it was a question of keeping it clean and tidy, which is exactly what the highly experienced pair did. They may not have had the same amount of seat time in the new vehicle as Poulter/Howie, who finished fifth on the Dakar Rally in the same Toyota Hilux earlier this year, but even so the pair immediately gelled with the latest generation of Toyota’s highly reliable race vehicle.
“We could possibly have pushed even harder in some sections,” was Taylor’s reaction after completing the race. “The new Toyota Hilux is a massive leap forward over last year’s vehicle, but now we know what the car is capable of, and we won’t hold back during round two.”
Toyota’s power performance on the RFS Endurance was further boosted by the privateer entry of Jason Venter and Vince van Alleman in the 4×4 Mega World Toyota Hilux. The pair drove extremely well on one of the longest races on the calendar, to not only finish third overall, but also take class honours in Class T. As a result, Toyota also won the manufacturer’s award on the event.
“It was the perfect start to the year for us,” concluded Hall from the DSP. “Now we look forward to the next rally, before taking on the first sprint race in the cross-country championship.”
Round 2 of the Donaldson Cross-Country Championship takes place near the Freestate town of Vredefort on May 7th, and features a new, compact race format that will see the crews compete in a single race, without the customary qualifying race to determine start positions.